By Fan Liu
Small business owners wear multiple hats —they are experts in their trades, managers, advertisers, legal navigators and accountants, and often times mothers and fathers. In between these thousands of tasks they have to do, they have to also come up with a strategy to grow. That’s why Accion East launched its first-ever MicroConsulting Program.
Accion East and its Microfinance Council, a volunteer network that advocates for Accion East, matched volunteers with Accion East-supported business owners based on their needs. The volunteers focused on one achievable project that would lead to growth. With two volunteers per business owner, they worked over a seven week period to provide the business owner with a deliverable.
At the end of the seven weeks, the Microfinance Council and Accion East’s staff, board members and supporters celebrated the accomplishments of the program participants at the PIMCO office.
As I arrived to PIMCO, each business owner had a table showcasing their business. I tried a cupcake from Kicky’s Kitchen, a samosa from Masala Wala and tried on lotion from House D’Marsh. Also on display were beautiful hand-made leather journals and bags from NadiraBag, bangles and earrings from Crusoe Jewelry and cookie cakes from Fatty Cakes. Then, the volunteer-client pairs gave short presentations on what they achieved together. The high-impact projects and volunteers included:
- Christie MacKinnon, owner of Kicky’s Kitchen – a boozy cupcake catering
- Problem: Christie was ready to expand her business from catering to retail. But she didn’t know who would sell her boozy cupcakes or cupcake kits.
- Solution: Her volunteers researched online and retail distributors that would best fit her brand and products. They proposed a plan to distribute her cupcakes through Etsy and Whole Foods.
Volunteers: Nanette – Senior Consultant, Ernst & Young; Suhail – Associate, Grant Thornton
- Roni Mazumdar, owner of Masala Wala, a local Indian restaurant in the Lower East Side.
- Problem: Roni’s financing system was a shoebox filled with receipts. It literally kept Roni up at night.
- Solution: The volunteers transferred all finances since inception of the restaurant to QuickBooks. They sifted through receipts, created a chart of accounts and trained staff on how to use the software. Now Roni can sleep a little bit better.
- Volunteers: Chloe – Healthcare Research Analyst, JP Morgan Chase; Susie – Global TMT Coverage & Advisory, Deutsche Bank
- Glenroy March, owner of House of D’Marsh, a fashion company that boasts two couture collections and stylist and runway services.
- Problem: With his business rapidly growing, Glenroy needed management skills to lead an effective team.
- Solution: The volunteers created structure for Glenroy’s employees by revising job descriptions and creating an employee manual. They also implemented a system to track employee performance.
- Volunteers:Linda – Menswear Planning, Macy’s; Ruchika – Senior Business Analyst, CHANEL
- Nadira El Khang, owner Nadira Bag, a handmade leather goods retailer.
(For Nadira’s business story, please read my previous blog “Make Your Dream Come True”)
- Problem: Nadira wasn’t sure where to begin. She was growing quickly but lacked infrastructure. She needed a website, studio space and a system for tracking her business finances.
- Solution: Nadira had found a company to create her website, but the volunteers had identified a website developer that would save her hundreds of dollars each month. The volunteers also found affordable studio space and transferred her finances to Quick Books.
- Volunteers:David – Attorney, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman;Tina – Associate, Grant Thornton
Jennifer Taylor-Miller, owner of Fatty Cakes, a cookie company specializing in the craziest concoctions you’ve ever tasted.
- Problem: Jennifer wanted to utilize her social media channels to engage her fans.
- Solution: The volunteers created a “three-pronged approach”. They formulated a plan to increase followers on all social media channels. They implemented #fattyfridays, a raffle for a free cookie cake and re-envisioned the focus of her blog.
- Volunteers: Nameeta – Marketing Consultant; Alyssah – Mutual Funds Internal Wholesaler
Maya Ahluwalia, owner of Crusoe Jewelry, a maritime-inspired jewelry company.
- Problem: Maya was on Quick Books, but didn’t know how to use it to create a strategy for growing her business.
- Solution: The volunteers created a financial model for Maya’s business and taught her how to fully utilize Quick Books to understand her business, like creating a profit and loss statement.
- Volunteers: Rhema – Director, Corporate Banking, CIBC; Ross –Associate, Futures & OTC Clearing, Bank of America